Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Hot July weather is in full force and the 4th of July holiday is literally right around the corner! To celebrate, I thought it would be appropriate to post some tips for taking better pictures of fireworks. Happy birthday, America!
Use a tripod and bring a flashlight!
If you want to see the light trails really fill out as the fireworks open up, you’ll need a slower shutter speed, and this will require a tripod, especially if you have a camera with a cropped light sensor (your standard consumer level DSLR). You’ll also want to bring a flashlight so you don’t get frustrated trying to fumble around with your tripod and camera in the dark!
When using the tripod, use a shutter release switch or set your camera on a timer.
The last thing you want is camera shake and blurry pictures when you’ve done all the work to set up and use your tripod! To make sure that you aren’t introducing any vibrations and camera shake into your photo, you’ll need to take the picture without touching your camera. You can do this with a remote switch, an attached shutter release cable, or by setting the timer on your camera so that the picture takes on a delay after the camera has stopped vibrating from your finger touching the shutter button.
Shutter speed settings.
There are many thoughts on shutter speed with fireworks. I’ve been able to capture some pretty brilliant ones with faster shutter speeds (faster in this case being 1/125 of a second), but the general consensus is that you want a minimum of 2-3 seconds. You can do this by putting your camera in “bulb” mode. You’ll need that shutter release cable though. If you don’t have one and don’t want to buy one, most cameras will support a shutter speed of a couple seconds.
Personally, I think it depends on what types of fireworks you’re shooting photos of. Some of them explode quickly, and others open up very slowly, like a flower. If you are thinking about shooting a particular show that is displayed frequently (a local theme park perhaps), you could do some recon ahead of time about the types of fireworks being shot off. It might help you to prepare for which shutter speeds you want to play with. For example, if there are multiple small fireworks being shot off at once, you may want to keep your shutter speed limited to a few seconds to keep from having your photo blown out by all the light sources. If one large firework is being shot off at a time, you will want a longer exposure, from the time it launches, to the time when the brightest points begin to fade after the explosion.
Fireworks should be thought of in a similar way to shooting photos of the moon. It’s a single bright light source against a (hopefully) dark sky. I generally like an aperture between f/7 and f/14 for this. If you aren’t comfortable shooting in full manual mode, you can shoot in shutter priority mode and let your camera handle the rest. If you are, then play around with it and have fun.
When it comes to fireworks, you want to keep this on the down low, when possible. The fireworks are bright enough that they will definitely get picked up by the camera. The problem happens when other light sources start to get picked up too. When taking photos at night, it is usually recommended to turn the ISO up in order to pick up little details that might otherwise be lost. For fireworks, however, higher ISOs meant that you’ll pick up residual light pollution. Try to keep it at 100 if possible, and definitely not higher than 200.
Make sure your flash is turned off.
I preach a lot on this blog about not using the auto settings so you can make your camera do your bidding. If you choose to ignore my nagging on this matter, please remember to at least disable your flash for fireworks photography. :)
Scope out the area ahead of time and pick a good spot to camp out in.
Believe me when I say this is one of the most important things. You will be competing with other people who are not only taking pictures, but just tilting their heads up and watching. There will be many people who get there early and pick a spot to park themselves in. I frequently watch the fireworks at Disney, and the park guests are camped out at least a half hour before the fireworks. Even an hour before, people start to get settled into spots along the boundaries of where they can stand for the best view.
Don’t let this frustrate you! Have a good time and get creative! :)